Thu, Nov. 10, 2005 - [Men's Cross Country]
The meet director handed out the first printed copy of the final results to Coach Ed McAllister. He spent an agonizingly long five seconds looking them over, before turning to his team and calmly exclaiming, "We got it."
What ensued was stunned disbelief among the predominantly host, Mount Mercy fans at Jones Park in Cedar Rapids on November 5 that the fledgling Saint Xavier Cougars, in only their second year of existence, had capped the Region VII NAIA Men's Cross Country Championship. Overcoming the highly favored Olivet Nazarene squad, Saint Xavier refused to quit throughout the grueling 8K(4.971 mile) course to capture the title with 54 points to Olivet's 59(low score wins in cross country). What made this victory all the more amazing is that the Cougar squad consisted of only five members, the minimum number that a cross country team can run. Saint Xavier fashioned a brutal schedule throughout the season, facing an almost entirely NCAA I schedule. "We paid dues throughout the season to be well-prepared for this one day", exclaimed McAllister. Amazingly throughout the long, arduous season the Cougars remained injury free. "This is a testament to the team's dedication. I'm sure there were times when one or the other of my guys were hurting, however they always sacrificed themselves for the overall benefit of the squad", stated McAllister. The Cougars were led by the lone sophomore, Steven Bugarin who finished second overall with a time of 27:10. Junior Kasey Carr of Olivet snagged the overall title in 26:47. The following Cougar was freshman Maciej Demaj in fifth place at 27:22. Next was freshman Arturs Bareikis in ninth place with 27:38. Bugarin, Demaj and Bareikis were named to the CCAC All-Conference and NAIA VII All-Region teams. The fourth runner for Saint Xavier was freshman Ronald Lavaire in eleventh place with 27:44. Lavaire took the early lead in the race and led for the first two miles of this highly competitive and hilly course. "As I was going to the line, Coach Mac said to me 'Lead 'em', so I did," stated Lavaire. "I didn't think that he was going to take me quite so literally, but I'm sure glad that he did," countered McAllister. The fifth Cougar across the line was freshman Alex Walker with a 27th place finish in a time of 28:49. "Many times the fifth runner goes unnoticed, however he is the glue that holds the team together,"stated McAllister." Our 1-5 gap shrunk to 1:39. We had been holding about 2:00 from front to back throughout the season. Without Alex's(Walker) performance today, this would not have been possible." The Cougars led the early portions of the race, placing four runners in the top six places. However, Olivet's strength and depth countered later in the race and the outcome remained in doubt through the finish. "We held solid front finishes, however Olivet controlled the middle slots, therefore the outcome hung on the relative positions of the fifth men," commented McAllister. "I can't say enough about the courage of each and every one of our runners. They refused to crack and their resolve became even stronger as the race drew on." Throughout the season, the Cougars were such a novel entry at many meets, that their presence brought so many quizzical "Saint Who?" comments, that it only half-jokingly became the mantra for the team. "Coach Mac purchased some Saint Who? shirts that we wore in warmups, we used that whole idea to motivate ourselves", quipped Maciej Demaj. It seemed to work as the Cougars prepare themselves for the NAIA National Championships in Louisville, Ky. on November 19. "We'll have our hands full. This Region has not performed well in the recent past. However, we've met every other challenge this season. We're used to being underdogs." Twenty-eight teams and an additional seventy qualifying individuals will line up at Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville in two weeks. "We'll be there and we'll be ready." Completing the award domination at Regionals, Coach Ed McAllister was named Regional Coach of the Year and Maciej Demaj was honored as CCAC Freshman of the Year. Asked what can he do to follow up the Regional Championship, McAllister stated, "More of the same. These guys are not dazzling. They didn't bring big names as high school runners. They're very blue-collar athletes. They work hard every day and with hard work, good things just happen."